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#TrendsIMO: Artist Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) Is Real

It might be time that we worry about the sonic exhaustion we are all quick to approaching with overwhelming music release cycles

Amit Vaidya Jan 13, 2022

The Weeknd. Photo: Brian Ziff

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It used to be that only hip-hop stars racked up so many weekly releases thanks to albums, mixtapes, soundtracks and guest features. But while those songs often had short lifespans on the chart and at radio, today, many of the biggest stars on the planet seem to be following this same formula. From The Weeknd to Justin Bieber, Doja Cat to Dua Lipa – you can’t really escape their music, anywhere. Of course, unlike most of the rappers, these artists have had huge hits that refuse to fade away quickly in time for their next release.

With new music cycles pouring out droves of new releases every week, should artists really try to stay relevant every week? Is too much of a good thing really respectable for listeners in the long run? I worry about the sonic exhaustion we are all quick to approaching. Already, the length of songs has been shortening to that of a jingle or TikTok video, should artists really put out everything they’re working on and just share with the audience because they can?

I ask this because I’ll be honest, this past week I listened to the very great new album by The Weekend, Dawn FM. It is a fantastically produced, sonically and lyrically impressive record. But after listening to the album, I really didn’t feel like playing it again. I hate to say this but I’ve developed a bit of Artist Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). As much as I’m enjoying this new era, it really doesn’t feel like a new era because every week for the past two months I’ve heard a new song featuring the singer. Bizarrely enough, none of those tracks appear on his new album, making for that many more songs I’ve heard by The Weeknd in a relatively short amount of time.

No matter how talented a musician is or how diverse sounding the production, there are bound to be lyrical, vocal and musical similarities amongst tracks. Even if we like a certain sound, over time, with overplay, anyone is likely to get tired of it. Remember Ace Of Base? The Weeknd has to know this. Ditto for Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Drake and so many other artists now following suit.

Justin Bieber has released so many iterations of his last album Justice, it’s hard to keep up. While it’s important these days to release deluxe editions, special editions, limited editions, and add guest features to older songs to revive the sales and streaming numbers, what these tricks are doing in some way is shortening the long-term potential of these artists.

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Look at Adele. The singer took nearly a six-year break and came back with a bang with 30. Literally, she had the entire world at her feet ready for her “comeback.” While the argument is likely that most artists can’t afford to take that amount of time off between eras, some gap is possible. While every Adele album becomes a monster success, she also then fades away from our streams of consciousness for a while, giving us enough time to want to hear more from her. Imagine if we got 31, 32, 33, 33 and a half over the next four years – would we really embrace her music or the artist herself in the same way?

Of course then, there’s the argument that no two artists are alike and some musicians literally are a factory of ideas and productions and unlike the days of yesteryear when a record label would decide what went on a record or what got released, artists have a direct connection and sense of control today to their audience. They can often bypass the normal preset rules of the industry. Not to mention, the amount of time it actually takes to make a song today, it literally can be out to the world overnight!

The problem with this change has been that we have inadvertently created a small batch of artists sitting atop the airwaves, competing with themselves for which track will oversaturate the market more. By releasing a new song nearly every week, this select bunch may chart high and stay in our conversations, but it is taking a critical and commercial toll on the quality of their music because of the quantity.

The Weeknd’s new album already suffered this when he, in my opinion, prematurely released the first single, Take My Breath last year. The song should have given him another Number One hit but it faltered, not even remotely reaching the heights of “Blinding Lights” or “Save Your Tears.” It’s unfortunate because the single deserved far more attention than it received as it sadly got lumped together and unfairly compared to his other big hits still on the charts.

Similarly, even Lil Nas X, a newer entrant to the chart topper’s club, is following this. Upon releasing his debut album Montero – he was still charting high with “Industry Baby” featuring Jack Harlow (and even “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” was still in the Top 10!) but released the music video for “That’s What I Want.” The music video and the song should have been a moment, but collectively our attention was still somewhere else. While the song is now charting high, it again lost some of its artistic merit because it didn’t get the time it deserved to be appreciated on its own.

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Prince was one of the first artists to take control of his career narrative back in the Nineties. He went from the label’s schedule to his own, releasing what felt like an endless number of albums. While some of them were well received, critically they all took a hit, as most critics and audiences believed it was too much being served in too short a time. Hidden between brilliant tracks were unnecessary fillers and songs that should have been B-sides became album cuts. In many ways, Prince tarnished his own image by diluting the value of his own creativity.

I fear The Weeknd, Bieber, and many others are doing this. Taylor Swift has been all over the place lately and while she has every right to regain control of her back catalog, she too has been part of this growing problem of there being just too much music out there without giving us a break.

Times have changed, many artists do feel like they can control their own narrative now.  I understand there is less money to be made with streaming so every new release means money. But every new release does come with a career risk. There is a danger that many artists who are giving us these endless supplies of songs are actually shortening the lifespan of their own music careers. While I hope to be proven wrong, there hasn’t been an artist that really has stood the test of time over a long duration without having timely gaps in their discography.

Milking a timeframe where you’re hot, I understand. But drowning the audience even if the art itself is brilliant, is diminishing your own worth. I’d like Dua Lipa and Doja Cat to have long careers, they’re such hard workers and so talented, they deserve it. But you can only get that when you leave an audience wanting more.

I don’t want any of these artists to become one-era wonders. We need established artists to grow with us over time. Artist Fatigue Syndrome is real, I plead with these artists to do us a solid and stagger their work with us a bit more. We will continue to love you, just give us a little more space to breathe.

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